Can Muslims Have Christmas Trees?

Writer Hadeel Masseoud first came across the problem last year:

Last holiday season my three-year old son, Zain, innocently asked me, “Mummy, what is Santa bringing me for Christmas?” I should have known that question was coming. After all, I sent him to pre-school at a Baptist church. He attended chapel every Monday and said blessing before lunch every day. Once when he was two, he waddled over to me and told me in his toddler voice, “Jesus is Love.”

The problem is that Masseoud is a Muslim. Growing up, she actually celebrated Christmas with her family — she didn’t know (or care) that it was a Christian holiday.

However, that all stopped before she was a teenager:

Then came one holiday season when I was twelve. My older sister (who was sixteen at the time and remains the religious crusader in our family to this day) dissuaded my parents from celebrating Christmas any longer. With tears in her eyes and fervor in her heart, she passionately made the case to my parents that Muslims celebrating Christmas was wrong. It didn’t matter that Muslims are taught to love and respect Jesus as a very important prophet of God and celebrating his birth is not technically against any Islamic principles.

Now, Masseoud’s Muslim friends are questioning why she would even consider celebrating any parts of “Christmas” with her child.

What happened when she suggested the possibility of lights and a tree and some presents to her husband?

Mohammad looked at me with an eyebrow raised and said, “You want to celebrate Christmas? Don’t be a sell-out, Hadeel.”

It’s probably not a far cry from the atheist viewpoint. Is it right for us to celebrate a Christian holiday? Are we being sell-outs by joining in on Christian traditions?

I think most of us are fine with the celebrations. The trees/lights/presents aren’t all necessarily Biblical. And they’re fun. What’s the harm, right?

Is there anyone out there who refuses to participate in anything Christmas-related?

(Thanks to Hindu Atheist for the link!)

  • Santiago

    Carols are hard. I stayed at a religious home in Germany for Christmas once and the mom of the house insisted we all sing Carols (she didn’t know I was an atheist, although I think she suspected I had severe doubts).

    Anyway, since I was a guest I grudgingly obliged. I pretty much felt horrible half-way through, feeling guilty of betraying my new-found atheism by singing the praises of “our Lord Jesus Christ” and feeling pretty much a coward for not simply saying that I wasn’t comfortable singing.

    I don’t think I’ll ever sing a carol after that, which might be somewhat awkward tomorrow, but at least I’ll not feel so much of a hypocrite and a coward.

  • Reagan

    I refuse to participate in Midnight Mass. I think that is Christmas-related, right? Ha.

    I’m with Santiago – carols make me feel weird. I stay away from them.

    But I don’t stop my (Catholic) wife and our children from going all out. There’s a tree, music, presents, etc. But I did notice one thing. My wife did not put out the nativity this year. I wonder if she is doing that out of deference to me? If so, I certainly appreciate the gesture.

  • http://wings1295.blogspot.com/ Wings

    Church. Don’t go, and not only because I am an Atheist. It was never a part of our Christmas celebrations as a child.

    My parents weren’t church-going people, even though they “belived”. The Christmas we celebrated was Santa/food/gifts/family/songs. Had nothing to do with anything religous.

    So, I am still celebrating the holiday as I always have and it means the same thing it always has. I have never felt the need to lose any of the traditions from childhood, cause “Jesus isn’t the reason for my season”. :)

  • Awesomesauce

    Forget CHRISTmas; I’m celebrating Monkey.

    Happy Monkey!

  • http://3thingsdaily.com ngl

    i usually spend christmas with my wife’s family. they pray at family meals, but it’s usually silent so i just duck my head a bit and thank the numerous hands that cultivated our food and brought it to the table. they always invite us to christmas eve service at their church but it’s no big deal if we don’t go, which we don’t. they know i’m an atheist buddhist and everything is generally chill.

  • http://ornerypest.diaryland.com/ OrneryPest

    Hey, I’ll use any excuse for a good celebration! Even the mythical birthday of an imaginary man-god that no sane and rational person would ever believe in!

  • Phil Marshall

    Lets face it, for many Americans, Christmas is a Capitalist holiday. The primary focus of the holiday is the shopping and the gifts.

  • http://noodleguy.wordpress.com noodleguy

    Come on, get into the spirit of Spaghettimas!

  • http://twitter.com/beanflower Amber

    I love Christmas. I’m wearing my Santa hat right now. Winter is a pretty depressing time.. Why not brighten it up?

  • http://elisverse.wordpress.com/ Elis

    I’m an Atheist from a Muslim background. I’m typing with a decorated tree at an arm’s reach from me. Even though I didn’t put the tree up myself, it doesn’t bother me as long as the religious aspects are kept out. My “Muslim believing” family members send gifts to my wife and daughter every year. I always tell my wife I don’t celebrate Christmas so I don’t have to help putting the tree up.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    “Don’t be a sell-out” is one of those criticisms which doesn’t really have any coherent meaning to it. From the sound of it, Masseoud’s only reason for not celebrating Christmas is because of pressure from friends and family.

    As for me, my entire family celebrates Christmas in a big way, so I hardly have a choice in the matter (not that I would choose to skip it).

    But the midnight mass? Seriously, who goes to those things? My entire extended family has a gathering that night, and I don’t know of anyone who would opt for Church instead.

  • Hitek

    Happy Monkey indeed.

    I don’t see a problem with trees and presents; then again my girlfriend is a tree-hugging hippy and I like getting stuff. There may be some bias.

  • Bogdan

    Let me paste a short article from the Ayn Rand Institute about how Xmas could be celebrated by us
    (http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7632)

    Novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand wrote that “the charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says ‘Merry Christmas’–not ‘Weep and Repent.’”
    With that in mind, the proper source of Christmas cheer is not religion, but commercialism, said an Ayn Rand Institute senior writer.
    “The commercialism of Christmas, its emphasis on ingenuity, pleasure, and gift buying, is the holiday’s best aspect–because it is a celebration, the achievement of life,” said Andrew Bernstein. “One of the best legacies of the Industrial Revolution is the fact that it transformed Christmas from a time of self-denial and lament to a time of celebration and good will. Only a life-enhancing society could create such a secular, non-religious celebration.”
    Bernstein added that Santa Claus, with his focus on rewarding the good whether they are rich or poor, is the perfect symbol of the secular Christmas holiday.
    “Santa Claus is, in literal terms, the anti-Christ,” said Bernstein. “He is about joy, justice, and material gain, not suffering, forgiveness, and denial. But Santa Claus is also a symbol of good will, and thus is the appropriate holiday symbol of America, a country that, because of its material prosperity, can inspire good will in all of its citizens.”

  • stephanie

    I’m so with OrneryPest. A party is a party and I don’t care if the host is real or mythical so long as s/he’s pouring. ;)

    I think it’s silly do be so dower about some foolish holiday. I’m an Atheist, my good friend is Jewish. Neither of us would skip the tree for anything.

  • TheDeadEye

    It’s probably not a far cry from the atheist viewpoint. Is it right for us to celebrate a Christian holiday? Are we being sell-outs by joining in on Christian traditions?

    Christmas is NO LONGER a Christian holiday. Show me where the Bible mentions anything good about Santa, elves, Rudolf, Frosty and a decorated tree. In fact, isn’t the idea of decorating a tree a biblical no-no?

  • Takma’rierah

    It’s been made abundantly clear to my immediate family that if, as a television commercial I saw earlier today advised, the “Christ” was re-made the true focus of christmas instead of exchanging gifts, I would never celebrate it.

    As it stands, really the only thing I have to opt out of is saying grace with my dad’s side of the family at any holiday meal, and they probably don’t notice anyways since they all have their eyes closed. =D

  • Siamang

    I take part in any and all. I’ve even been known to attend a Christmas religious service.

    I think that this great diary on Daily Kos says a lot. Perhaps Hemant will make a post of it. It’s pretty sweet.

    An Atheist’s Thoughts At Christmas
    by elfrijole

    Tue Dec 23, 2008 at 09:02:28 AM PST

    Christmas, to me, is still a time of joy, comfort, renewal, and forgiveness. I think of the people who are important to me in my life, I think of the less fortunate, and I think of how I might have been a better person in the last year, and what changes I can make in the new year. I hope that I will actually get off my ass and do something meaningful to make this world a better place in the coming year, instead of just forgetting about that warm Christmas feeling after the holiday has passed.

    elfrijole’s diary :: ::
    As your atheist husband/son/friend/uncle (etc…), I promise to help you when you need help, love you when you need love, challenge you when you need to be challenged, forgive you when you ask for it, ask for forgiveness when I need to, and be there for you in any other way I possibly can.

    I won’t worry about saving your soul, but will challenge you to be a better person here on earth, as I hope you will do for me. I will ask that you not wait for an after life to celebrate the life you have, but live your life to it’s fullest measure now. I will not assume that if I wrong you, we can meet in heaven and work things out; I will try and work things out now.

    I will not mock or devalue your faith, whether I disagree with it or not, but if you subvert your faith because you are in my presence, then I will question how firmly you hold your faith.

    I will be offended if you trust me so little that you think I wouldn’t respect your wishes to pray over supper, wear a cross around your neck, go to church or tattoo a picture of Jesus on your back if that’s what you want to do. It is your faith, not mine.

    I will ask that you understand that I didn’t come to my belief that there is no god because of some whim. I will hope that you understand that it is my sincerely held belief that I see no good evidence of a benevolent, omnipotent, and all knowing god. Also, I don’t see any evidence of ghosts, angels, spirits or other super natural beings that either support or battle an almighty god or interfere in our lives. If you and I are having issues, it is because of you and I, no one else.

    I will hope you understand that the phrase “I don’t believe in god” is different than “I don’t believe there is a god,” which is a subtle, but important difference. The second statement is the one I prescribe to.

    I hope that you can see one day that I do have faith, but that it is faith in you. You have been there for me; you’ve helped me when I needed a hand; nursed me when I was sick, listened when I needed an ear to bend, comforted me when I was sad or grieving, and celebrated with me when the opportunity presented itself.

    I hope that instead of praying for me, that you will call me, come see me, email me, text me, or write me. To me, all those things are better than a prayer I will never hear.

    All in all, what I value in you is your humanity. I see no need to prescribe your kindness, loyalty, and strength to a heavenly father, maybe just your earthly mother and father, brothers and sisters, and other friends and family who helped make you the imperfect, but lovable person you (and I) are.

    In the end, I hope for you all the all the things I hoped for you when I was a Christian; Joy, health, longevity and most of all, love.

    Merry Christmas

  • HP

    Christmas is not, and never has been, a Christian holiday. Until about 150 years ago, Protestants preached against the celebration of Christmas, and, although it was a feast day in the Catholic and Orthodox calendars, excessive celebration was discouraged by the Church hierarchy.

    The association between Christianity and Christmas is a modern phenomenon, and has nothing to do with the historical practice of Christianity.

    I think, of contemporary societies, the Japanese probably have the healthiest take on Christmas.

  • Aj

    How is doing anything without buying into it selling out? I’d sing hymns, say prays, or eat zombie crackers if I bloody well want to and enjoy doing so.

    a) Atheists don’t believe in it, or something that might imply it’s wrong to celebrate it. The BBC reported that 70% of British people don’t believe in the nativity story, that includes 20% of “Christians”. Belief is not required to join into rituals, whether it’s putting angels on a tree or sacrificing virgins to appease a blood thirsty God.

    b) Tradition/culture isn’t something to conform to, it’s something that just happens, it’s a terrible reason to do something. If you’re thinking about it, you aren’t doing it right. Do what you want to do, not because someone did/does something, that’s sheepish/boring/stupid.

    c) Christmas probably has some sentimental value for you, since it’s probably a part of your childhood and a happy time (yay presents). Nostalgia is a powerful force.

  • Vincent

    Sunday I had lunch over at the home of some Hindu friends and they had a lovely christmas tree their 6 and 8-yr old sons had decorated.
    I see no problem with it, especially in the USA where it’s an official (and therefore secular) holiday.

    as for carols/hymns, sure I sing along. I enjoy them. I also sing along to Sir Mixalot “Baby Got Back” though in fact I don’t really like big butts.

  • http://www.claire-eclectic.com Ashes

    I don’t celebrate Christmas, nor any other holidays, actually. At some point I have to draw the line between refusing all participation and actively hurting my family’s feelings, so you could say I participate to a minimal extent, but it’s not what I’d call genuine.

    But my issues with Christmas are only secondarily about religious misgivings. Principally, I’m disturbed by the emotional manipulation of “consumers” and the emphasis placed on gifts as obligations. Spending time with my family requires no designated date, and I like it better when they aren’t stressed out. Plus Christmas music really annoys the bejesus out of me (and I choose my words carefully).

    Anyways, for me, it’s not selling out, it’s just giving in to the way the world works. And I suspect that’s what many atheists do, but they’re just less grumpy about it than I am. I envy you that.

  • http://mylifeintheblender.wordpress.com Laurie

    I love Christmas! It is just fun! What is the harm–it is not like you are going to go to hell or anything for celebrating! :) Christmas is so secularized anymore that it really doesn’t matter. I don’t even have problems with nativity scenes and even have one myself–I rank it up there with Santa Claus.

  • False Prophet

    I’m generally cool with Christmas. I concluded a long time ago that it was really about spectacle, superficiality and consumerism–including its religious aspects (aside from the virgin birth, does Christmas really add much to Christian theology? There’s a reason it was ignored or condemned by various Protestant sects over the centuries). It’s a good excuse to see family and friends and have time off work, though I confess the consumerism and the obligation of gift-giving gets a bit much at times.

    I don’t pray–I sit silently while the rest of my family goes through the “Grace Before Meals”. Thankfully my family are pretty much Catholic-by-cultural-tradition, not hardcore zealots, and my command of the history and theology of the Church thoroughly dwarfs theirs, so they generally accept they’re not talking me into anything. Outside of prayers and Mass, which I haven’t attended in years, my family isn’t oppresive with religious activity.

    Although I don’t really encounter carols much outside of the shopping malls anymore, I don’t mind them. I’m a musician, I can play “Hava Nagila” without being Jewish or “Scotland the Brave” without being Scottish. Some religious music is just awesome, like many of Bach’s works–now that is Christian music I can groove to, not this derivative CCM crap of today.

    I prefer Halloween as a holiday though. ;-)

  • The Unbrainwashed

    @ Bogdan:

    I agree. When in doubt, just ask yourself “What would Ayn Rand do?”

    If I had a God, she would be it.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Wait, is it Christmas soon?

    I wondered why the kids were pestering me so much.

  • http://lavenderprophets.wordpress.com/ Idir

    It’s Kwanzaa for my family.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    @ Idir:

    Do you actually celebrate Kwanzaa? That’s a more made-up holiday than Hanukah and XMas. Not to mention the overt Marxist and collectivist edicts that it encourages.

    (The above comments shouldn’t be surprising in light of my Ayn Rand comment above.)

  • Beowulff

    We have a decorated tree. We’ll be exchanging gifts. Neither of these are Christian. Don’t see why we can’t just enjoy the days off, have good food with family, and leave all the Christ bits out of it.

  • timplausible

    If people don’t want to celebrate Christmas, that’s fine. However, I don’t think they should feel like they shouldn’t celebrate the secular aspects of it just because it’s Christian. Halloween is largely a secular celebration, and few make a stink out of people who don’t engage in its religious aspects celebrating its other aspects.

    Furthermore, some holidays are modern inventions, and we don’t much hold grudges against folks for celebrating those holidays. What’s wrong with effectively inventing your own, non-Christian version of Christmas, with the parts you like in and the parts you don’t like left out? Nothing wrong, I say.

    Folks who don’t see the point or don’t enjoy it can feel perfectly free to not take part. But we shouldn’t be criticizing folks for whether they do or do not choose to take part. What’s the point of that?

  • http://virtualityforreal.blogspot.com Allytude

    I don’t find it wrong celebrating- anything- and I mean anything. Including Diwali(am Indian), Eid and Of course Christmas AND Thanksgiving.
    Its a little thing about being happy and doing thing out of the ordinary making the house cheery and happy- and Presents. Religion is in the mind- not in the manifestation of things we do outside- so I even listen to carols- and all the silly Rudolph the red-nosed stuff too. I just do not believe in it. And it is fun.
    Oh and I also listen to Handel’s Messiah- please don’t tell me that atheists do not.

  • stogoe

    I’m perfectly fine with coopting a religious festival for secular purposes. Christmas is fun, and it’s good to get together with family and share decadent food.

    I don’t see the problem with carols, either. It’s not like the Atheist Police will slap you in cuffs and drag you away for enjoying song and music with your friends. And there’s no magic man in the sky who’ll come down and rip up your Atheist Membership Card if you sing songs that praise its name.

    Singing is one of my greatest joys, and I’m not going to let the fictional nature of the lyrics get in the way of sharing that pleasure with friends and family.

  • Erik

    If half of judaism can exist as a secular representation of tradition and family, I’m OK with a tree and presents around xmas.


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